One method available to researchers for examining sexual attitudes is to solicit evaluations of others based on information about sexual experience. Differences in expectations about appropriate sexual behavior of men and women measure the so-called sexual double standard. To test the conditions under which a sexual double standard is endorsed, 110 male and 146 female college students (94% white, 3% black, 3% all other ethnicities) responded to vignettes depicting either a male or female target as having a low or high number of past sexual partners within committed or noncommitted relationships. In general, little support for the endorsement of a sexual double standard was found. However, participants consistently made differential judgments on the basis of sexual experience: Targets described as having more permissive sexual histories received more negative evaluations than did those described as having less permissive sexual histories. Results are discussed in terms of media exploitation of sexual information and support for a relational orientation toward sexual experience.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Allgeier, E. R., & Fogel, A. F. (1978). Coital position and sex roles: Responses to cross-sex behavior in bed.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 588–589.
Beeghley, L., & Sellers, C. (1986). Adolescents and sex: A structural theory of premarital sex in the United States.Deviant Behavior, 7, 313–336.
Biernat, M., Manis, M., & Nelson, T. E. (1991). Stereotypes and standards of judgment.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 485–499.
Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures.Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.
Byers, E. S., & Heinlein, L. (1989). Predicting initiations and refusals of sexual activities in married and cohabiting heterosexual couples.The Journal of Sex Research, 26, 210–231.
Check, J. V. P., & Malamuth, N. (1985). An empirical assessment of some feminist hypotheses about rape.International Journal of Women's Studies, 8, 414–422.
Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers.Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2, 39–55.
Cota, A. A., & Xinaris, S. (1989, June).Psychometric properties of the Sex-Role Ideology Scale. Paper presented at the meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
DeLamater, J. (1991). The social control of human sexuality. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.),Human sexuality: The societal and interpersonal context. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
DeLamater, J. T., & MacCorquodale, P. (1979).Premarital sexuality: Attitudes, relationships, behavior. Madison, WI: University of Chicago Press.
Denney, N. W., Field, J. K., & Quadagno, D. (1984). Sex differences in sexual needs and desires.Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 233–245.
Ehrlichman, H., & Eichenstein, R. (1992). Private wishes: Gender similarities and differences.Sex Roles, 26, 399–422.
Ferrell, M. Z., Tolone, W. L., & Walsh, R. H. (1977). Maturational and societal changes in the sexual double-standard: A panel analysis.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 39, 255–270.
Gagnon, J. H. (1990). The explicit and implicit use of the scripting perspective in sex research. In J. Bancroft, C. M. Davis, & D. Weinstein (Eds.),Annual review of sex research (Vol. 1), Mount Vernon, IA: Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.
Garcia, L. T. (1982). Sex-role orientation and stereotypes about male-female sexuality.Sex Roles, 8, 863–876.
Garcia, L. T. (1983). Sexual stereotypes and attributions about sexual arousal.The Journal of Sex Research, 19, 366–375.
Green, S. K., & Sandos, P. (1983). Perceptions of male and female initiators of relationships.Sex Roles, 9, 849–852.
Holmbeck, G. N., & Bale, P. (1988). Relationships between instrumental and expressive personality characteristics and behaviors: A test of Spence and Helmreich's theory.Journal of Research in Personality, 22, 37–59.
Istvan, J., & Griffitt, W. (1980). Effects of sexual experience on dating desirability and marriage desirability: An experimental study.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42, 377–385.
Jackson, S. (1978). The social context of rape: Sexual scripts and motivation.Women's Studies International Quarterly, 1, 27–38.
Jacoby, A. P., & Williams, J. D. (1985). Effects of premarital sexual standards and behavior on dating and marriage desirability.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 1059–1065.
Kalin, R., & Tilby, P. J. (1978). Development and validation of a sex-role ideology scale.Psychological Reports, 42, 731–738.
Korman, S. K., & Leslie, G. R. (1982). The relationship of feminist ideology and date expense sharing to perceptions of sexual aggression in dating.The Journal of Sex Research, 18, 114–129.
L'Armand, K., & Pepitone, A. (1982). Judgments of rape: A study of victim-rapist relationship and victim sexual history.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 134–139.
MacCorquodale, P. (1991). Gender and sexual behavior. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.),Human sexuality: The societal and interpersonal context. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
Margolin, L. (1990). Gender and the stolen kiss: The social support of male and female to violate a partner's sexual consent in a noncoercive situation.Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 281–291.
Mark, M. M., & Miller, M. L. (1986). The effects of sexual permissiveness, target gender, subject gender, and attitude toward women on social perception: In search of the double standard.Sex Roles, 15, 311–322.
McCabe, M. P., & Collins, J. K. (1984). Measurement of the depth of desired and experienced sexual involvement at different stages of dating.The Journal of Sex Research, 20, 377–390.
McCormick, N. B. (1987). Sexual scripts: Social and therapeutic implications.Sexual and Marital Therapy, 2, 3–27.
McCormick, N. B., Brannigan, G. G., & LaPlante, M. N. (1984). Social desirability in the bedroom: Role of approval motivation in sexual relationships.Sex Roles, 11, 303–314.
Miller, B. C., & Moore, K. A. (1990). Adolescent sexual behavior, pregnancy, and parenting: Research through the 1980s.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 1025–1044.
Mosher, D. L., & Tomkins, S. S. (1988). Scripting the macho man: Hypermasculine socialization and enculturation.The Journal of Sex Research, 25, 60–84.
Muehlenhard, C. L. (1988). “Nice women” don't say yes and “real men” don't say no: How miscommunication and the double standard can cause sexual problems.Women and Therapy, 7, 95–108.
Muehlenhard, C. L., & Cook, S. W. (1988). Men's self-reports of unwanted sexual activity.The Journal of Sex Research, 24, 58–72.
Oliver, M. B., & Sedikides, C. (1992). Effects of sexual permissiveness on desirability of partner as a function of low and high commitment to relationship.Social Psychology Quarterly, 55, 321–333.
O'Sullivan, L. F., & Allgeier, E. R. (1994). Disassembling a stereotype: Gender differences in the use of token resistance.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 1035–1055.
O'Sullivan, L. F., & Byers, E. S. (1992). College students' incorporation of initiator and restrictor roles in sexual dating relationships.The Journal of Sex Research, 29, 435–446.
O'Sullivan, L. F., & Byers, E. S. (1993). Eroding stereotypes: College women's attempts to influence reluctant male sexual partners.The Journal of Sex Research, 30, 270–282.
Peplau, L. A., Rubin, Z., & Hill, C. T. (1977). Sexual intimacy in dating relationships.Journal of Social Issues, 33, 86–109.
Perper, T., & Weis, D. L. (1987). Proceptive and rejective strategies of U.S. and Canadian college women.The Journal of Sex Research, 23, 455–480.
Reiss, I. L. (1960).Premarital sexual standards in America. New York: Free Press.
Robinson, I., Ziss, K., Ganza, B., Katz, S., & Robinson, E. (1991). Twenty years of the sexual revolution, 1965–1985: An update.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 216–220.
Robinson, I. E., & Jedlicka, D. (1982). Change in sexual attitudes and behavior of college students from 1965 to 1980: A research note.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 44, 237–240.
Shields, W. M., & Shields, L. M. (1983). Forcible rape: An evolutionary perspective.Ethology and Sociobiology, 4, 115–136.
Shotland, R. L., & Goodstein, L. (1992). Sexual precedence reduces the perceived legitimacy of sexual refusal: An examination of attributions concerning date rape and consensual sex.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 756–764.
Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1978).Masculinity and femininity: Their psychological dimensions, correlates, and antecedents. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Sprecher, S. (1989). Premarital sexual standards for different categories of individuals.The Journal of Sex Research, 26, 232–248.
Sprecher, S., McKinney, K., & Orbuch, T. L. (1987). Has the double standard disappeared?: An experimental test.Social Psychology Quarterly, 50, 24–31.
Sprecher, S., McKinney, K., & Orbuch, T. L. (1991). The effect of current sexual behavior on friendship, dating, and marriage desirability.The Journal of Sex Research, 28, 387–408.
Sprecher, S., McKinney, K., Walsh, R., & Anderson, C. (1988). A revision of the Reiss Premarital Permissiveness Scale.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 821–828.
Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (1989).Using multivariate statistics. New York: Harper Collins.
Tanfer, K., & Schoorl, J. J. (1992). Premarital sexual careers and partner change.Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 45–68.
Tetreault, P. A., & Barnett, M. A. (1987). Reactions to stranger and acquaintance rape.Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 353–358.
Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1988). The relation of gender-role orientation to sexual experience among college students.Sex Roles, 19, 619–638.
Williams, J. D., & Jacoby, A. P. (1989). The effects of premarital heterosexual and homosexual experience on dating and marriage desirability.Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 489–497.
Zelnick, M., & Kantner, J. (1980). Sexual activity, contraceptive use and pregnancy among metropolitan-area teenagers.Family Planning Perspectives, 12, 230.
The assistance of Nor Ostrowski, Julie Hale, and Kurt Trappenberg is greatly appreciated. I am also grateful for the funding provided by the Department of Psychology to conduct this study.
About this article
Cite this article
O'Sullivan, L.F. Less is more: The effects of sexual experience on judgments of men's and women's personality characteristics and relationship desirability. Sex Roles 33, 159–181 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01544609